Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I live on the edge of apocalypse. Floods. Fires. Plagues. Earthquakes. We get them all in Southern California.
In 1994 when the Northridge Quake struck, I was living on the third floor of an apartment facing west toward the Pacific Ocean. My living room had a floor-to-ceiling window that took up most of the wall. In the evening, I could watch the pollution-fueled sunsets and revel in the beauty.
The quake struck at 4:31 a.m. California time. I sleep like the dead, but at 4:29 that morning, I'd suddenly sat up in my bed, awakened by my two cats who were racing around my bedroom in what I thought was an unusually exuberant example of normal nocturnal cat craziness.
It was cold in my bedroom. I always sleep with the window open, even in chill January.
The quake struck the blink of a sleepy eye later. It lasted 20 seconds. You have no idea how long 20 seconds can be until you've counted it off in the dark in a room with the floor shaking under you. And if my window hadn't been open, the stress of the building flexing in a 6.7 quake would have shattered it.
In the kitchen, cabinets were shaking open and cans of dried spices were launching themselves across the room. A cut-glass vase that had belonged to my great-aunt shattered as it hit the floor. So did a ruby red punch bowl I'd inherited from my mother.
My roommate, a native Californian, freaked out and came running out of her room in her bare feet, just as a heavy framed poster swung free of the wall. It clipped her on the forehead. There was a LOT of blood. I didn't hear her scream, though, because of the thundering roar that drowned out everything. I'd been through earthquakes before but I had never heard the grinding noise the earth makes as it shears on a fault. It's been described as sounding like a massive freight train roaring down a track. That description does not do it justice.
The Northridge quake was 6.7. It lasted for 20 seconds. Seventy-two people died, nine thousand were injured. Damages ran into the double-digit billions. There was no water for several days. There was no electricity for a couple of hours. My phone never stopped working. When the lights came back on, my roommate washed her face and bandaged the small cuts. We found blood spatter on the walls for months, along with chunks of red glass embedded inthe floor from the destroyed red punch bowl. A friend who didn't want to sleep alone came over and stayed on our couch for almost a month. It got so we could predict the magnitude of aftershocks with precision. What people forget is that if you have an earthquake that massive, the aftershocks are huge too.
The closest I've ever been to Haiti was editing a cookbook for Haitian caterer Nadege Fleurimond. It hit bookstores late last month. She's in the middle of a celebratory round of reviews and interviews. I have not talked to her yet. I do not know if her people are safe. So many are not. The death toll is being projected in the hundreds of thousands.
Yesterday's quake in Haiti was a 7.0. Port au Prince has been flattened. The magnitude of the disaster is off the human scale. The American Red Cross is already running out of supplies to send to the victims. There's a donation program in place that makes it easy and quick to help. Text "Haiti" to 90999. The $10 donation to the American Red Cross will appear on your next phone bill.
Or click on the button above to donate to Doctors Without Borders.
Posted by Katherine Tomlinson at 11:30 PM